7 Types of Pollution Everyone Should Understand

Steve Russell - November 7, 2022

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When someone talks about going green, they often speak about minimizing their carbon footprint by reducing how much pollution their lifestyle creates. You might picture them recycling soda cans, but people make other forms of waste that many never even think about. These are the seven types of pollution everyone should understand if they want to improve the planet’s health.

1. Water Pollution

Every industry eventually affects rivers and oceans. For example, the food industry produces single-use wrappers and packaging daily, which leak PFAs (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) into the ocean when they float around on the waves.

Restaurant and food packaging pollution accounts for 49% of U.S. litter, so food waste ends up in the sea regularly. Marine animals don’t need to attempt to eat the garbage for water pollution to harm them.

Garbage of all kinds also leaks chemicals from the paint, plastic, and other components that poison all marine life. Microplastics, pesticides, herbicides, and household cleaners regularly wash down drains and into local waterways. Unless they’re biodegradable, animals and plants will continue to suffer from chemicals that people use daily.

2. Air Pollution

You’ve likely heard about carbon dioxide (CO2) clogging the atmosphere and trapping heat, which causes global warming. Burning fossil fuels contributes to air pollution, but it also creates other problems related to airborne gasses.

Vehicles also create nitrogen oxides that cause respiratory problems that degrade everyone’s quality of life. People living in cities or by roadways will breathe more nitrogen oxides than others living in rural communities. Air pollution also harms wildlife near populated areas.

It’s a significant type of pollution because most living things need to breathe oxygen to survive. Everyone’s at risk of breathing air pollution as long as burning fossil fuels remains a standard for vehicles, factories, and more.

3. Land Pollution

Land pollution has a few forms that people should know about if they want to improve the environment. This type of pollution includes things like soda bottles on the side of a highway and pesticides poisoning local plant life. I

Electronic waste is also an essential part of land pollution. It occurs when people upgrade tech like phones, tablets, and computers. Instead of disposing of the devices at tech recycling centers, people create e-waste by tossing their old devices in the garbage.

People recycle only 25% of their electronics, which contain metals that poison the natural environment if burned or left in landfills. It’s another way human-generated waste hurts the planet in ways that might slip the attention of even the most dedicated environmentalists.

4. Light Pollution

Lights are an essential part of daily life. Could they really hurt the environment? Your living room lamps aren’t directly impacting the planet, but the widespread use of bright lights by cities, streets, and towns definitively harms wildlife.

The U.N. Environment Programme published findings in 2021 that discussed how street lamps disrupt internal genetic clocks in animal and insect populations that control things like migration and reproduction. When those clocks don’t work as well because artificial lights throw them off, wildlife may not reproduce.

Continued light pollution will change the animal kingdom and the food chain by preventing species from continuing their contributions to the planet. Although it’s easy to forget about light pollution, it should be a primary focus because it affects every living thing.

5. Radioactive Pollution

Radioactive materials aren’t a primary focus of climate change activists. Carbon dioxide pollution and trash waste in the oceans can seem more important. They’re easier to see and understand, but radioactive pollution doesn’t just occur after a nuclear bomb explosion.

It doesn’t even come from just nuclear energy plants. Radioactive pollution also includes rags and tools from production facilities making atomic weapons. There are many more sources than people may realize, so regulating this form of pollution may be easier than eliminating the extensive trash or chemical waste sources.

6. Thermal Pollution

Another sneaky form of pollution happens when a natural body of water experiences a drastic temperature change. Whether the water gets hotter or colder, the sudden fluctuation in temperature changes the oxygen levels that keep communities and ecosystems alive.

Power plants and industrial factories with heavy machinery cause this type of pollution regularly. They draw cool outdoor water inside to cool the machines or parts, then pump it back into the original water sources. Due to the change in oxygen levels, the water can’t support the surrounding ecosystem. It may also kill living things by raising the water temperature too high.

Cooling is essential to these plants and machinery operations, so there should be other solutions to thermal pollution. Monitoring water oxygen levels or waiting until the water returns to its average temperature could become essential to overcoming this pollution to improve the environment.

7. Noise Pollution

It is one of the least well-known types of pollution. Loud noises might bother some people, but you may never realize it’s a form of pollution. Pollution is anything that disrupts the natural ecosystem or harms living things. Besides being a nuisance, loud noise hurts people if it happens for a continuous, extensive period.

Long-term exposure to noise pollution above 80 A-weighted decibels (dBA) causes temporary and permanent hearing loss along with increasing a person’s high blood pressure and interferes with their sleep.

It can also cause anxiety in migrating animals and disrupt their annual journies. Noise may prevent them from detecting predators as they normally would or relying on sound for navigation.

The most common sources of noise pollution are major cities. They have more traffic and construction noise than small towns or rural communities. Laws restricting noise after certain hours or under specific decibels could mitigate this type of pollution if they go into effect for the largest cities.

Understand the Different Types of Pollution

Anyone who cares about the environment should learn about the seven types of pollution that affect living things. Plants, animals, and people all suffer from pollution created by things like lights, machinery, and single-use products. When people better understand the widespread effects of their actions, everyone can work more effectively to improve the planet.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.